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The Experimental Education Series Looks to Offer a Gateway into the Experimental Music Scene

Jan. 31, 2017
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Peter J Woods admits that the performance series he’s curating this year is as much for his own enlightenment as for that of his audience. 

“When I called this series the Experimental Education Series, that education tag applies to me as well,” the 10-year veteran of Milwaukee’s electronic music community says of his latest venture. “This is a first step I am taking in the hopes of improving my practice as a curator. Hopefully the series continues and I can keep working towards equitable practices in DIY spaces and shows.”

Woods’ inaugural series, starting with a 4 p.m. workshop and an 8 p.m. concert Saturday, Feb. 4 at The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts (926 E. Center St.) with headliner Angel Marcloid, focuses on female creators of experimental music. Anyone taking in the kinds of shows where Woods performs under his own name and as part of ensembles such as Bridges of Königsberg and xALLxFORxTHISx knows that there often isn’t much in the way of female presence on those bills. Woods is aware that these four shows aren’t going to fix that disparity.

“It’s important to say that this series, by my own admission, is not going far enough,” Woods confesses, adding as to gender parity in the music he promotes, “I am not going to rectify this situation with this series. This is a drop in the bucket, really.” As drops in that bucket go, though, Woods has organized quite a splash, with performers coming from as close as Chicago’s Olivia Block and far away as New York state’s Sarah Hennies for the four events running from February through November. 

The afternoon workshops by the female performers, making their art in the evening in tandem with occasional male and transgender collaborators, should offer insight both to seasoned experimental listeners and newcomers. Woods enthuses of the seminars’ content, “These workshops should act as a gateway into their process, so we can see what is going on behind the scenes and understand what they value in this work and why they are drawn to it. My hope is that these workshops allow people who are new to the genre to find an anchor for what they hear and see later that night, but also provide an opportunity for fans and seasoned veterans to gain a deeper insight as well.”   

Though Woods didn’t mention an influx of vitality to Milwaukee’s local experimental music community as a specific goal of his series, it may be something on his mind considering his thoughts about the city’s scene for outsider sounds. Of the support system for it, he says, “I feel like the music infrastructure, in terms of building and sustaining a community of support, has more or less bottomed out. Especially in terms of DIY culture.”

For the series, Woods enlisted help from, and will assist, other non-profit parties. Woods’ current graduate studies in education at UW-Madison allow him access to the university’s Network Fellowship that encourages grad students to make cultural connections outside the school. Woods has also involved Freespace, the Milwaukee organization that encourages high schoolers’ artistic endeavors and interactions, and Robert Szocik is allowing Woods an hour of his show on WMSE-FM, “Alternating Currents,” to play music by the series’ featured artists on the Sunday nights prior to each installment. That joining of forces plays into why there may be no archival record of the series’ workshops and performances, too.

“We will see,” he says. “I’m a firm believer in the social element of education—you don’t learn when you are locked in a room by yourself. Hopefully that convinces people to come out and help build a community around this approach to music. And, really, I find that community far more important than the music anyways. Music is a great tool to build that community and share ideas, but without that end I don’t really care.” 

And despite his dire tone about what’s going on in Milwaukee experimentally, Woods is hopeful. “There are always bright spots,” he says. “Some pretty incredible musicians released some incredible music last year. Hopefully this [series] starts to push people towards this kind of music in a form that goes beyond mimicry, beyond using music as an excuse to join a party.”

The Experimental Education Series kicks off with a 4 p.m. workshop and an 8 p.m. concert at the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts featuring performers Angel Marcloid, Nummy, The Smudge and Mommy.

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